Fajitas, burritos, taco shells. In recent decades, these Tex-Mex offerings have become family staples in the UK, thanks in no small part to Old El Paso, which debuted in 1984.

Keen to offer less adventurous shoppers a gateway into Mexican cuisine, Old El Paso debuted its Extra Mild, Super Tasty Fajita Dinner Kit in 2010. Since then, its pipeline of NPD and effective marketing campaigns have helped secure its place as the category-leading meal kit brand and establish ‘fajita Fridays’ as a new dinnertime occasion.

While Old El Paso might have broadened Brits’ culinary horizons, referring to it as a Mexican brand has always been a stretch – after all, it takes its name from a Texan town. However, the launch of its Street Vibes range – which includes a duo of soft taco meal kits and table sauces – signals a desire from owner General Mills to offer shoppers more authentic Mexican flavours.

The new Barbacoa (255g) and Al Pastor (257g) meal kits (both rsp: £3.20) are inspired by “two of the most popular Mexican street food flavours”, according to the manufacturer. They are also Old El Paso’s first meal kits designed to serve two people, “targeting a younger demographic through the fun flavours and format”, rather than families.

Appealing to younger consumers

Presumably, they are designed to keep gen Z and millennial shoppers – who have grown up with Old El Paso’s meal kits but have now developed an appetite for more exotic fare – buying into the brand.

If successful, the range could help Old El Paso turn around its volume declines (–5.8%) [NIQ 52 w/e 31 December 2023]. Its initial attempt to recoup volumes was to appeal to health-conscious consumers looking for “light” mealtime options.

Old El Paso added Burrito Bowl Kit in July and Extra Thin Tortillas in August. This was followed by the launch of two Burrito Bowl ready meals, made in partnership with Samworth Brothers, in September. They responded to “a gap” in the market, according to Old El Paso.

Street Vibes, however, will directly compete with Kraft Heinz’s Mexican meal kit brand, Las Chicas. Also aimed at younger shoppers, Las Chicas debuted in September with a quintet of meal kits (including an Al Pastor soft taco kit), along with cooking pastes, salsas and more.

Developed in partnership with Mexican culinary institute El Claustro and two of Mexico’s up-and-coming chefs, Karla Encarnación and Ximena Gonzalez, Las Chicas calls on shoppers to “ditch Tex-Mex and taste real Mexican”.

The fact that two fmcg giants are hedging their bets on true Mexican flavours certainly signals a step-change for the category, driven by changing shopper tastes.

What’s driving the popularity of Mexican cuisine?

Restaurant chains, like Chiquito and Wahaca, have popularised Mexican dishes in the UK over recent years. Plus, Mexico is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. It registered the arrival of more than 21 million international tourists by air in 2023, an increase of 6.2% compared with 2022, according to Mexico’s secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco Marqués.

As a result, Mexican street food is receiving global attention and even winning international accolades. Earlier this month, Mexico City’s El Califa de León became the country’s first taco stand to win a Michelin star – nearly 60 years after it opened in 1968.

Whether Old El Paso or Las Chicas comes out on top, developments such as these can only mean that authentic Mexican flavours will become more pervasive in UK grocery. And if that happens, it’s likely we’ll see milder Tex-Mex dishes be phased out in favour of spicier, smokier fare.

Goodbye extra mild fajitas, hola tacos de barbacoa!